Reflection from the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network for England and Wales and Scotland.
In 2019, Pope Francis addressed 6,000 members of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network in Rome, telling us that ‘the heart of the church’s mission is prayer’. When he invites us all, each month, to pray with him for a specific intention, he asks us to take on this mission. September’s timely intention encourages us to pray ‘that we all will make courageous choices for a simple and environmentally sustainable lifestyle, rejoicing in our young people who are resolutely committed to this’. Clearly, our prayer leads to action and can never be an excuse for avoiding it.
Code red for our common home
To accept the Pope’s invitation and to join with him in this intention is timely in more than one way. We are learning, almost every day, about further environmental degradation in various places, while a recent, massively important IPCC report issued what was immediately recognised as a ‘Code Red’ warning about global heating and how the risk it poses increases by the day. Second, many people of good will are about to participate in this year’s Season of Creation, with all the opportunities for learning and campaigning that it presents. Third, the great city of Glasgow will host world leaders and many activists for the latest international and intergovernmental gathering, known as COP26. Part of our prayer this month should be for the success of that conference, that the delegates who have influence will listen to each other, as well as to experts and campaigners, and not be swayed by interests that threaten to deepen the climate emergency.
It is clear from this month’s intention that we need to think about our lifestyles. Contemporary living, at least for those who can afford it to be, tends towards the wasteful and environmentally irresponsible. We should recall, at this point, how Pope Francis has already encouraged us to think about ‘integral ecology’, which, in simple terms, means that how we treat our environment, our ‘Common Home’, mirrors how we treat each other. Are our dealings with each other sometimes marked by selfishness, wastefulness and insufficient charity? If we examine our ways of living, we may well discover that those regrettable attitudes are also how we treat our planet. Therefore, a good part of praying with the Pope this month will be to make just such an examination of conscience, asking for the grace to know when and how we’ve indulged ourselves in the throwaway culture, treating both people and planet as objects to be used and then discarded when no longer useful to us.
Courageous and prayerful
We’re invited to make a ‘firm purpose of amendment’ by deliberately choosing to adopt a changed lifestyle, one that is environmentally sustainable and simpler. Such a choice, the Pope acknowledges, will be ‘courageous’; it will be tough, too, because we will likely find aspects of our living that we will have to forego, principally around energy use but also including what we like to eat and what else we consume. This, too, will require prayerful reflection. But we need not feel we are doing this alone. Others, more than perhaps we imagine, share these concerns. The Pope takes care to remind us of how younger people are committing themselves to this cause, asking us to rejoice that they are doing so. It is their future living that is at stake, after all.
Live simply so that others may simply live
The ‘Live Simply’ coalition was created in response to the Majority World debt crisis. That was a big focus at that time, at the beginning of the new millennium, when it was becoming clear that the debt owed to the rich north by the global south was severely debilitating the prospects of those poorer, less-developed nations. These concerned people, whose numbers included many faith-groups, wanted to advocate for a less wastefully extravagant lifestyle in the North so that the Global South might have a chance to live. People still take up that challenge today, although not enough of us do. Now is the time to do this again. We need to ask each other about the harm we do, both to Sister Earth and to each other, by the way we live. Do we just accept the throwaway culture? Or are we beginning to see that all is connected, that ‘we can discern countless forms of relationship and participation’? (Laudato Si, 79)
One complex crisis
Laudato Si boldly argued that ‘we are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental’ (Laudato Si, 139). How a society and its economy works and behaves reveals how and why it pollutes and mistreats our ‘Common Home’. This one crisis calls for a solution that is integrated; protecting nature, welcoming the marginalised and combatting poverty.
This is the ‘integral ecology’ which this great document proposes. There is much more at stake than just recycling more or flying less. Human ecology, how we treat each other especially those least able to look after themselves, cannot be separated from our care of our Common Home. Therefore, poverty becomes an environmental issue while climate-justice activism can’t be separate from the global struggle against poverty.
At this time, it’d good to be reminded of the words of the great Scottish-American environmentalist pioneer John Muir from over a century ago: ‘When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he [sic] finds it attached to the rest of the world.’
Three proposals for September
- Recalling that how we treat our Common Home sometimes reflects how we behave towards each other, think and pray about the ‘throwaway culture’. What attitudes do I notice in myself that I should reconsider?
- Participate in the Season of Creation, which runs from 1st September to 4th October, the feast day of St Francis of Assisi (www.seasonofcreation.org). Its ecumenical, international theme this year is ‘A Home for All’. Investigate how your parish or worshipping community is participating; encourage others to take part.
- Learn more about the ongoing work of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which has just changed its name to the Laudato Si Movement. www.laudatosimovement.org.
Keep in touch
This is the last monthly reflection email composed by the present National Director from the Edinburgh base. Next month a new co-ordinator takes over. You will still be able to contact the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network for England, Scotland and Wales by using the Contact Form on the new website.
Image: Fr Lawrence Lew OP